2014 NFL Mock Draft: Updated Predictions After the 1st Week of Free Agency
One of the more misunderstood facets of building an NFL team is the role of free agency when it comes to the draft.
Certainly many different teams and numerous team builders will have a myriad of different thoughts, but the overarching theme is that the two cannot exist without one another.
Fans will want to point to the Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks as an example of a team built primarily through the draft, but we shouldn't ignore that the Super Bowl runner-up Denver Broncos were built almost entirely through free agency.
It's almost never one or the other, though; it's both—in unison. Teams that can navigate free agency to find the players they need are then able to draft the players they want.
Free agency may completely alter the draft for some teams, but it's not necessary that it does. In many ways, teams can use free agency to make sure they're not backed into corners in the draft. In other ways, teams can easily double down on positions turning longtime weaknesses into strengths.
How could this year's massive free-agency spending spree affect this year's first round? Click ahead!
1. Houston Texans—Teddy Bridgewater (QB Louisville)
I don't see this pick changing in my mock drafts until news leaks that the Houston Texans absolutely won't be taking Teddy Bridgewater. No, as I've written recently, I don't think Bridgewater's disappointing pro day will affect this, as I think the Louisville quarterback is still the top passer in the draft—by a significant margin.
2. St. Louis Rams (via Washington)—Greg Robinson (OT Auburn)
The St. Louis Rams, thanks to the trade that turned into Washington quarterback Robert Griffin III, can do just about anything they want in this draft. In a division that features three of the most fearsome pass-rushing defenses (Seattle, San Francisco and Arizona), beefing up the offensive line even more seems like a solid bet.
3. Jacksonville Jaguars—Jadeveon Clowney (DE South Carolina)
The Jacksonville Jaguars are taking a bit of a shortcut in creating the southern Seahawks defense by bringing in old Seahawks like defensive tackle Red Bryant, but an elite pass-rushing prospect like Jadeveon Clowney turns the building project into a work of art.
Also, talk of Clowney's subpar motor would almost be nil once he gets around head coach Gus Bradley.
4. Cleveland Browns—Johnny Manziel (QB Texas A&M)
Don't think this pick changes in my mind for some time, either. Johnny Manziel just works for the Cleveland Browns who are looking for a home-run type of pick and quarterback after years and years of bunt singles and striking out.
What I like most about Manziel is his ability to create when other things are breaking down. For Cleveland, that will result in a lot of big, positive plays—even as he continues to develop as an NFL passer.
5. Oakland Raiders—Blake Bortles (QB Central Florida)
Of all the quarterbacks in this draft, Blake Bortles has the greatest margin of error to his draft stock. He looks the part of an NFL QB more than Bridgewater or Manziel and could go as high as No. 1 because of it. Yet, he also has a lot of work to do and could slip out of the Top 10—or even further.
Here, he becomes the linchpin to the Oakland Raiders rebuilding, as they look to surround him with as much talent as possible to help him become a quick success and bring Oakland back to the NFL forefront.
6. Atlanta Falcons—Khalil Mack (OLB/DE Buffalo)
The worst-kept secret in the NFL is that the Atlanta Falcons pine for a pass-rusher. They've added some bigger bodies in Paul Soliai and Tyson Jackson, but the versatile and athletic Khalil Mack gives them a defensive superstar they can hang their hats on.
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers—Sammy Watkins (WR Clemson)
After bringing in Josh McCown, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are no longer desperate for a young quarterback, but don't completely rule it out if one of the top three falls to them. Yet, with a team built around defense, the offense is unlikely to be looking for a run-and-shoot-type mentality.
With Sammy Watkins, the Buccaneers can move the chains effectively, get big plays after short passes and work down the field when they need to.
Oh, and he just might be the best offensive player in the entire draft, at No. 7...that helps build a team too.
8. Minnesota Vikings—C.J. Mosley (LB Alabama)
With the top three quarterbacks off the board, the Minnesota Vikings are looking at a draft with linemen, linebackers and wide receivers.
With two of those positions addressed in recent drafts (tackle Matt Kalil and receiver Cordarrelle Patterson), the Vikings up the ante on defense with C.J. Mosley—a strong thumper in the run game who can still cover and get from sideline to sideline with great athleticism and instincts.
9. Buffalo Bills—Jake Matthews (OT Texas A&M)
The Buffalo Bills have lost as much as they've brought in this free-agency period, but the overarching theme of the team's rebuilding still needs to be the success of EJ Manuel at quarterback and helping the run game contribute toward that end.
Offensive tackle isn't the biggest need on the Bills' board, but Jake Matthews is (by far) the best player available whom they could slot in immediately (likely at left tackle, moving Cordy Glenn to the right).
10. Detroit Lions—Mike Evans (WR Texas A&M)
When Golden Tate was brought in to play second fiddle to Calvin Johnson, this pick became less of a need and more of a luxury. However, that said, why not go with turning a strength on the team to something that never needs to be worried about again?
With Johnson and Mike Evans on the outside, Tate in the middle and Brandon Pettigrew back at the tight end position, Matthew Stafford would have as many weapons as any quarterback in the league could ask for.
11. Tennessee Titans—Anthony Barr (OLB UCLA)
The Tennessee Titans have an overabundance of 4-3 linebackers on the roster and adding another linebacker like Anthony Carr may seem like overkill. Yet, Carr brings a level of athleticism and pass-rushing prowess that many of the others don't. If anything, this pick would ensure that the Titans play four really good linebackers and have plenty of depth and flexibility within the scheme.
12. New York Giants—Taylor Lewan (OT Michigan)
The New York Giants have done as much as almost anyone on the defensive side of the ball this offseason, bringing in Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Walter Thurmond at cornerback, but they've also brought some beef to the offensive line with guard Geoff Schwartz and center J.D. Walton—both likely starters.
Add in Taylor Lewan, who has shot up draft boards, and the line becomes a strength of Big Blue once again.
13. St. Louis Rams—Odell Beckham Jr. (WR LSU)
With the offensive line sorted out, thanks to the second overall pick in the draft, the Rams have a shot to bring in another target for Sam Bradford. While he lacks ideal height at only 5'11", Odell Beckham Jr. has a great catch radius and makes enough big plays both in the intermediate and down-the-field routes to stick out as a No. 1 on a very young and electric receiving corps.
14. Chicago Bears—Aaron Donald (DT Pittsburgh)
It never fails: Every time a mock doesn't have a safety slotted to the Chicago Bears, someone comes in and reminds me they need a safety. Yes, I know. Thankfully, the NFL has continued to allow the draft to continue for six more rounds this season, and the Bears certainly have a chance at one in the later rounds.
Here, the Bears make up for the loss of Henry Melton and bring in the draft's best interior pass-rusher. Aaron Donald won't make up for the production of both Melton and Julius Peppers, but he's a step in the right direction.
15. Pittsburgh Steelers—Kelvin Benjamin (WR Florida State)
The Pittsburgh Steelers have needed a bigger-bodied wide receiver for some time, and Kelvin Benjamin not only fits that bill, but he also has the athleticism the team loves on Big Ben Roethlisberger's famous extended (read: broken) plays.
Benjamin has work to do as he transitions to Sundays, but he could easily man the No. 2 or No. 3 spot on this team with more than enough upside to take over No. 1 duties in the near future.
16. Dallas Cowboys—Justin Gilbert (CB Oklahoma State)
The Dallas Cowboys already had plenty of major defensive issues last season without accounting for some of their losses in free agency. So, they've done an OK job patching things up with defensive tackle Henry Melton and end Jeremy Mincey, but there's certainly plenty of room for improvement.
Like Morris Claiborne a few years ago, Jerry Jones will be drawn like a moth to Justin Gilbert's athleticism.
17. Baltimore Ravens—Eric Ebron (TE North Carolina)
The Baltimore Ravens kept Dennis Pitta around, I know. Yet, they've also seemed to double down on the passing game bringing back Jacoby Jones and inserting Steve Smith into the rotation. So, another target certainly won't hurt.
Moreover, Eric Ebron is a completely different player than Pitta and will extend the seam in ways Flacco's strong arm has only dreamed of to this point in his career. Frankly, I don't know if there's a quarterback-target pairing I would be more excited about in this draft than these two.
18. New York Jets—Darqueze Dennard (CB Michigan State)
The New York Jets swung and missed on a bunch of cornerbacks in free agency and don't have a lot of talent back there in terms of what Rex Ryan needs cornerbacks to do in his scheme—press and man-cover. Luckily for Ryan, Darqueze Dennard is a tough, physical corner who does exactly that.
19. Miami Dolphins—Zack Martin (OL Notre Dame)
I'm not a huge fan of the idea that Zack Martin can play left tackle in the NFL, but that's already taken care of on the Miami Dolphins, thanks to the signing of Branden Albert. So, Martin is brought in to man either the left guard or right tackle positions—both big needs for the Dolphins as well.
20. Arizona Cardinals—Dee Ford (OLB Auburn)
The Arizona Cardinals have been given an offensive linemen in a lot of mock drafts this offseason, but bringing in Jared Veldheer and Ted Larsen (potentially) helps toward that end. Certainly, they could take another lineman here, but remember that they're also anticipating big things out of guard Jonathan Cooper and may elect to keep building out that devastating defense.
Dee Ford likely doesn't start as an every-down linebacker in the NFL, but he has an opportunity to be a very productive pass-rusher early on as he continues to round out his game.
21. Green Bay Packers—Calvin Pryor (S Louisville)
The Green Bay Packers, like the Bears, are in the search for safeties this offseason. More to the point, they're in search for anything to bring their defense to a championship level. That's why they opened up the wallet to keep Sam Shields, and that's why they brought in Julius Peppers.
In a division with the Bears and Detroit Lions both spreading the field out and looking to go vertical, a safety with range like Calvin Pryor is a must-have.
22. Philadelphia Eagles—Ha Ha Clinton-Dix
Look, if Malcolm Jenkins is all the Philadelphia Eagles want to man their safety position along with the returned Nate Allen and second-year player Earl Wolff, that's fine. Yet, when a player like Clinton-Dix falls in your lap, it's a perfect example of turning a weakness into a strength in an offseason.
Ideally, Wolff continues to improve, and Clinton-Dix starts alongside of him, because, frankly, Jenkins hasn't been that good in the NFL and is more suited for a nickelback/hybrid-safety role.
23. Kansas City Chiefs—Brandin Cooks (WR Oregon State)
Last season, the Kansas City Chiefs rode a staunch defense to the playoffs, but they'll need to start putting up points—and throwing the ball more—if they want to continue to take steps toward legitimacy. Bringing in the speedy Brandin Cooks to replace Dexter McCluster at slot receiver is a no-brainer that should help ignite the passing attack.
24. Cincinnati Bengals—Kony Ealy (DE Missouri)
Losing Michael Johnson might be a big blow for the Cincinnati Bengals, but getting Geno Atkins back from injury and drafting a pass-rusher the caliber of Kony Ealy will help soften that blow considerably. Now, the only question is if the defense can get past the loss of former coordinator Mike Zimmer.
25. San Diego Chargers—Louis Nix (NT Notre Dame)
The San Diego Chargers did a better job of coordinating their defense last year than they are given credit for, but it was an incredible lack of talent that made life easy for opposing offenses. Putting Louis Nix—the best nose tackle prospect in the draft—between Corey Liuget and Kendall Reyes is a formula for success.
26. Cleveland Browns (via Indianapolis)—Marqise Lee (WR USC)
Adding Manziel earlier and Andrew Hawkins during free agency to play slot receiver is a great way to help superstar receiver Josh Gordon. Another receiver with big-play ability such as Marqise Lee can really round out things, however, and ensure that Manziel has all the weapons he might need to mature into the NFL passer Cleveland needs.
27. New Orleans Saints—Allen Robinson (WR Penn State)
It's a deep receiver class, and many different pundits and scouting eyes have a different view of which receivers can or should go in the first round. However, for me, Allen Robinson stands head and shoulders above a lot of other prospects the New Orleans Saints could consider, thanks to his ability to go up and get the pass.
He's the last receiver on my board with true No. 1 receiver ability.
28. Carolina Panthers—Jason Verrett (CB TCU)
The Carolina Panthers have to wince seeing so many receivers come off the board before their first-round pick, but they have other big needs as well, and it's a deep enough class at both receiver and offensive tackle that they could easily wait on those positions and find starters and/or role players.
Here, with Jason Verrett, they grab a legitimate (albeit undersized) No. 1 corner with the ability to help shut down passing attacks in New Orleans and Atlanta.
29. New England Patriots—Jace Amaro (TE Texas Tech)
The New England Patriots have bulked up their defensive backfield in a big way, thanks to free agency, now they need to get their passing game back on track. The addition of Jace Amaro—more of a slot receiver than a tight end—pairs nicely with Rob Gronkowski.
30. San Francisco 49ers—Ryan Shazier (LB Ohio State)
The San Francisco 49ers have been good at padding their roster with draft picks in recent years as they build one of the deepest teams in the league. So, no, they don't need Ryan Shazier with this pick, but he'd be a great piece to the puzzle as he brings pass-rushing ability and phenomenal athleticism.
31. Denver Broncos—Bradley Roby (CB Ohio State)
The Denver Broncos brought in Aqib Talib but still need an athletic No. 2 corner to allow Chris Harris to play in the slot where he is best. Most of all, though, they just need to pad that section of the depth chart as injuries in the defensive backfield made life awfully tough toward the end of last season.
32. Seattle Seahawks—Morgan Moses (OT Virginia)
The Seattle Seahawks need to get serious about protecting Russell Wilson if they don't want him running for his life almost every play for another season. Morgan Moses had a great Senior Bowl and showed he has the agility to pass protect at the next level.